William Cooper’s Illuminati Conspiracy Theory Explained

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Who are the Illuminati? What’s the connection between the Illuminati and the New World Order?

William Cooper believes that, since the dawn of civilization, a secret organization of self-styled intellectual elites called the Illuminati has worked from the shadows to manipulate economies, governments, and religions for their own gain. He discusses their aims in Behold a Pale Horse.

Read more for an overview of William Cooper’s Illuminati conspiracy theory.

William Cooper’s Illuminati Conspiracy Theory

William Cooper’s Illuminati conspiracy theory states that the Illuminati has members in every significant economic, political, and religious organization in the modern world and ultimately intends to use its vast power to establish a global totalitarian socialist state.

The Antisemitic Origins of the NWO

While Cooper played a role in popularizing the NWO theory, the idea didn’t originate with him. The belief in an all-powerful, global organization secretly planning world domination via manipulating economies and governments dates back to the 18th century. However, early theorists characterized said organization as specifically Jewish, a “cabal” of “internationalist Jewish bankers” plotting to disenfranchise non-Jewish whites and ultimately carry out an anti-Christian genocide. Belief in this theory provided justification for antisemitic government policies, including Russian pogroms in the Pale of Settlement and the Holocaust. 

While Cooper never names the Illuminati or the world’s elites as being specifically Jewish, he repeats these theories wholesale and regularly cites known antisemites of his time. In addition, the first edition of Behold a Pale Horse reprinted “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in its appendix. Cooper claimed that this infamously antisemitic document actually referred to the Priory of Sion, a fraternal organization and secret branch of the Illuminati, and had only been edited to implicate Jewish businessmen. However, this failed to curb antisemitism among his fans, and later editions simply removed the Protocols

A Secret Society Narrative of History

Cooper claims that, among the first civilizations, a few people sequestered themselves into their own secret society and resolved to use their superior intelligence to control and exploit others. Their goal was the pursuit of knowledge and wealth and to establish themselves as kings or even gods. Every significant upheaval in human history since—wars, epidemics, economic crashes, and so on—is the result of their machinations, using wealth and threats to direct leaders where they didn’t simply install their members in seats of power.

(Shortform note: While belief in a global conspiracy like the NWO might seem terrifying, scholars suggest that these theories are actually a kind of self-soothing anxiety response for believers. If all of history is the result of an evil organization’s plans, that means that nothing is ever truly random—and thus, any future disaster can be predicted and prepared for. Even believing in an all-powerful enemy like the Illuminati can be comforting, in that it provides a tangible enemy to fight against rather than having to deal with the moral complexities of international politics.)

While the true name of this group is the Illuminati or “illuminated ones,” Cooper claims that a number of secret or legendary societies throughout history, including the Knights Templar and the Freemasons, were just the Illuminati under a different name. Any affiliation of these organizations with a specific faith or government, such as the Knights of Malta’s affiliation with the Catholic Church, were fronts to conceal their relentless pursuit of power and wealth across religious and political lines.

The Real Illuminati

The Illuminati did exist at one point, as a Bavarian secret society formed in 1776 by canon-law professor Adam Wieshaupt. Basing his group on the Freemasons and the Jesuits, Wieshaupt envisioned the Illuminati as a place of discussion and political organizing around the Enlightenment ideals of reason, natural law, and secular government. However, the Illuminati operated for only a few years before infighting and persecution by the Bavarian government led to its collapse in 1787.

Conspiracy theories about the Illuminati first emerged at the turn of the 19th century, when they were accused of orchestrating the French Revolution to weaken the Church and profit off the dissolution of the monarchy. Despite a lack of evidence, this theory remained popular into the 20th century, and the Illuminati have since been blamed for everything from the Russian Revolution to World War I to the anti-colonialist movements of the 1960s. Thanks to Cooper and other authors promoting the NWO conspiracy theory in the 1990s, fear of the Illuminati continues to crop up in 21st-century conspiracy circles.

The Illuminati survives in the modern day through a number of disparate branches. Cooper argues that any internationalist or globally minded organization—such as the United Nations—is an arm of the Illuminati. Any apparent rivalries between organizations or their elite members, be they politicians or businessmen, are just for show. When the New World Order is established, they will all join together as the rulers of the human race.

America First Versus Globalism

Cooper’s suspicion of international organizations like the UN is linked to an old 20th-century debate between isolationism and internationalism. Isolationists argue that countries should concern themselves mainly with domestic affairs and avoid getting involved in international trade or foreign wars, which might compromise their interests. In contrast, internationalists argue that cooperation among nations—including punishing countries that violate UN directives—is necessary to create a safer and more just world.

In the United States, the isolationist movement first arose as opposition to U.S. involvement in the World Wars. Today, most politicians favor internationalism, and criticism of “globalism” (the pejorative term for internationalism, and possibly an antisemitic dog whistle) is largely limited to members of the far right. 

Illuminati Goals

When the Illuminati feel that the time is right to move—Cooper doesn’t give an exact timeline, though he suggests it will likely take place in the early 21st century—they will dissolve all of the world’s governments and form the New World Order, a single, centralized and socialist body led by a council of the politicians and businessmen who already control the Earth’s natural resources and armies.

According to Cooper, the Illuminati believe that their takeover is necessary for the survival of humanity, as well as for future economic prosperity and scientific advancement. Most of humanity is too weak and unintelligent to be allowed to govern themselves, and the NWO will prioritize the lives of the most gifted while exploiting the rest for resource extraction.

Illuminati Methods

Cooper names several core tactics the Illuminati will use to establish and maintain their power:

  • Economic shocks and dependency—According to Cooper, the global economy is a massive system of social engineering run by the Illuminati. Recessions and economic booms are deliberately triggered at random intervals to destabilize people’s lives. This will increase the government’s power while people become more trusting of “big government.”
  • Psychological warfare—Cooper believes that the Illuminati manipulate people through pop culture and the news. These popular narratives encourage people to trust the Illuminati-led federal government, while those like Cooper who refuse participation in the system are depicted as backward, violent, or extremist.
  • Disarmament—Any attempt to limit people’s access to guns is an attempt to weaken popular power. Cooper decries anti-gun and gun registration laws as inherently authoritarian and accuses the Illuminati of further using the media to demonize guns.
  • Undermining democracy—Cooper argues that the Illuminati are attempting to undermine the “checks and balances” system laid out in the Constitution by increasingly empowering the Executive branch at the expense of the Legislative branch.
William Cooper’s Illuminati Conspiracy Theory Explained

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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